The Gift of Listening

In the moments just before dawn this morning, I sat on my back porch, soaking up the sounds that God made. It was still too dark to see anything, so my sense of hearing was more finely tuned to the cardinal’s song greeting the coming light, the rasping of the crickets, the scratching of the squirrels as they ventured down the oak tree to drink from the bird bath… I could even hear the whir of hummingbird wings as the tiny bird neared the feeder beside the porch. It was a feast for my ears, and for my soul!

Listening is a gift…It is a gift that God offers–in the staggering discovery that God actually listens to us–and it is a gift that we offer others…  -Adam S. McHugh, The Listening Life

I’ve spent the last week studying and pondering the fourteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel. A leader of the Pharisees invites Jesus to join him and his guests (more Pharisees) for Sabbath dinner so that they can observe him. They’ve heard that his Sabbath behavior can be inappropriate, so they test him. Jesus, of course, sees it as the perfect opportunity to challenge their perverted understanding of humility, compassion, generosity and hospitality and to teach them God’s perspective about these virtues.

Jesus is quite clear that we are to cultivate and practice these virtues now if we want to sit at God’s dinner table when the Kingdom comes in the fullness of time. I am challenged by this. I am not by nature consistently humble, compassionate, generous, or hospitable. And from what I observe of human nature, I’m not alone.

As I listened to the sounds of creation this morning, Jesus’ words from Luke 14 echoed in my mind, as well as McHugh’s proclamation that listening is a gift. Jesus always listened. (And he still does!) He was never too rushed, too busy to stop and listen to someone’s need. And I sensed the Spirit saying that listening is critical to developing the virtues of humility, compassion, generosity, and hospitality.

Listening requires humility, first and foremost. I have to be humble enough to set aside my thoughts, my desire to speak, in order to truly listen to another. Deep listening reflects compassionate concern for others. Listening prompts generosity and is, in and of itself, an offer of hospitality.

Listening is a gift–first from God to us in that he listens to us continually, and then from us to others as we freely, humbly, compassionately, generously and hospitably give what we have been given.

In our lives, Lord, let this be so. Amen and amen.

Don’t forget the blueberries!

In his book The Healing Reawakening, Francis MacNutt notes that people rarely come asking for the fruit of the Spirit. Rather, they come asking for the gifts of the Spirit. He writes–

…many people ask for us to pray for them to receive the charismatic gifts, such as, “Please pray for me to receive the gift of healing.” Relatively few ask for the fruits of the Spirit, saying something like, “I have trouble loving other people. Would you pray that I receive the gift of loving and caring?”

Francis MacNutt wrote about me. I have often asked for God to give me a particular spiritual gift. I rarely have intentionally asked for the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I have joked for years about not asking for patience because the lessons to learn it are painful!

I am all about doing. I have long prided myself on keeping busy. I certainly identify with Martha in the biblical story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10. I’ve read countless books and heard countless talks about the importance of being over doing, only to think to myself that if it weren’t for those of us who do, nothing would ever get done. (Seriously, there’s a certain amount of truth in that, right?!)

The point is not to separate the doing from the being. The point is that the gifts without the fruit lead to pride and self-aggrandizement. Asking for the gifts of the Spirit and not for the fruit of the Spirit is rooted in selfishness, even when it is born out of misunderstanding.

When I ask for the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–I’m asking God to form in me particular qualities of character. That means it’s who I am all the time. When I ask for Spiritual gifts, I’m asking for something I can use, something I can do when and if I choose.

I often teach that ministry is not just what we do, but it is who we are. That’s only true when we pray for the fruit of the Spirit in conjunction with the gifts of the Spirit. When I have the character of Christ, the spiritual gifts become tools which I selflessly use to bless others. The fruit of the Spirit informs me how to use the gifts of the Spirit for God’s glory rather than my own.

No doubt about it, I need more fruit.

summer-fruit-bowl-02So, God, may I please have some raspberries…and strawberries…and peaches? Maybe a banana and some kiwi? And please don’t forget the blueberries. I need them all!